Let’s aforementioned this post by saying I don’t have crazy hard and don’t have personal experience on this topic. I’m just gathering all the information from the internet and compiling it here for an easy to understand resource on the basics of handwashing cloth diapers. I do have hard water, like 180 PPM if you want to be specific, but not hard enough that I find I need water softeners. 

You have hard water if you’ve tested your water, if you get soap scum in the bathroom, or find it takes a lot of soap to get a solid lather. This means your water has lots of minerals in it and can be a challenge for washing and cleaning just about anything. These extra minerals take up some of the time and effort from detergents meaning detergents work less effectively on cleaning clothes compared to other water types.

 (at least that’s the internet consensus, ask a detergent manufacturer and they all say unless your water is extremely hard, it should work just fine. It’s made for that because most of Canada and the USA has some degree of hard water)

What is a water softener?

Water softener is a laundry additive used with machine machine cloth diapers with detergents that lack the oomph to take on hard water. Water softeners increase cleaning power. 

Many detergents have some variation of water softener in them to ensure effectiveness of washing and ensure that minerals don’t become a problem in the water situation. 

How do you Hand wash Cloth Diapers?

Simply, without a machine. There are many different ways to do it from using your hands to using a wash board or other camp style device. The lack of a machine is what makes handwashing different, and makes the rules change. 

Yes, the rules are changing. 

Don’t even think about using the same amount of detergent you use in your washing machine in that bucket. Not unless you want to rinse your diapers until next Sunday. 

Laundry machines while easy they shifted how cleaning clothes actually happened and in this shift we notice a need for different types of cleaning agents such as detergents over soap. 

Soap Scum 

Hard water was known for causing issues with soap scum in washing machines and on clothes. This probably is largely resolved by the vigorous agitation that handwashing lends itself too and is not a problem; primarily from the squeezing and ringing process at the end of hand washing. 

As such, that’s why we can use soap when handwashing but soap for washing machines is less than ideal. Detergent was designed to tackle the troubles of machine washing clothes. Soap is the original on the block, ready to clean with nothing more than your hands and some wet clothes. 

Soap scum can be tackled using vinegar or other citric acids as it help cuts the soap scum. Parents you have struggled with soap scum in their machines do not have the exam experience hand washing their diapers. 

Now what about water softeners for handwashing?

Probably not. 

Handwashing requires such little detergent to successfully clean diapers, you’re more likely to have success by adding more detergent until you get a nice agitation and clean going. 

Reading through past testimonials of the Flats & Handwashing challenge, as well as other blogs and resources, most parents with hard water from 150 – 400 PPM do not add water softeners. They instead find balance in adding a little more detergent or soap as needed for a better clean. 

However, some do. So if you already use water softeners in your home laundry system, you might keep them on hand. It’s hard to tell as everyone has a different experience and I don’t believe in right or wrongs. Did you even use water softeners before you start cloth diapering? Did your clothes come clean? With flats we are using simple textiles, but perhaps softeners might have an added benefit for more complex set ups?

Remember, we are only using a small amount of soap/detergent, like maybe a few TBSP at most to clean a handful of diapers. The scale of operation is totally different, and detergents and soap don’t get as distracted by the mineral rich water as they might in a washing machine. 

Moreover, the less harsh chemicals in the water the better. Your hands will love you if you treat them kindly and water softeners do not feel good. 

What’s your experience?

Keep it simple and if your cloth diapers begin to smell begin to make small changes and adjustments to get where you want to be.